Notes on the Titans’ 2014 cap situation and possible cuts

Unlike the past couple seasons, I will not (pretendi to) maintain my own web page with the Titans' cap situation. For that purpose, I strongly recommend Over The Cap, whose Titans page is more complete and updated more timely than the pages I've put up the past couple seasons. I also recommend the NFLPA's available cap space page, which I believe will be updated once the new League Year begins on March 11.

That the 2014 salary cap is at $133 million instead of the long-projected $126.3 million gives the Titans (and every other team) a good extra bit of room to work with. Between that and their carryover, I estimate the Titans currently have about $10.3 million based on the offseason top-51 methodology. Translating the offseason top-51 calculation to a start of the regular season 53-man roster plus injured reserve number is a continuous exercise in moving parts, but the Titans will have enough room to work with. Keep in mind that salaries added to the salary cap under the top-51 knock the bottom salary off the salary cap. For instance, the cap effect of Bernard Pollard's deal was not his 2014 cap hit of $2.675 million but the net overage of that against the bottom salary, which was (and still is) $420,000, for a net cap hit of $2.255 million. The same is true in reverse for any of the released players.

I should note, though, that the Titans do not have quite as much salary cap space as that makes it seem. The reason for that is the draft picks. Based on how I expect draft pick salaries to be slotted, adding the six picks the Titans currently have in the draft to their current top-51 calculation reduces their available cap space from a bit under $10.3 million to $7.7 million. That is a reduction you notice, but the Titans do still have room to do work.

That room to work is without any possible releases. In the course of the positional analyses, I indicated a number of players whose combination of salary, productivity, and injury history could leave their positions on the Titans vulnerable.

(a) Chris Johnson is the most prominent of those, of course, with an $8 million base salary that would go off the books and total dead money of $4 million, which may be split over the next two seasons if the Titans so choose. Thanks to his late-season injury, the Titans will want him to pass a physical before they release him. Ken Whisenhunt has also repeatedly deferred questions about CJ's future with the excuse/explanation that he has not met him yet. I wrote in the RB positional analysis I thought the Titans should cut CJ before the first player session (likely on April 7, and I do not anticipate any physical issues with that) just to get a fresh start. If they do not do that, then the other logical time is right after the draft, when they ideally have selected a back on the third day. If he makes it to training camp, my bet is they're keeping him.
(b) Kamerion Wimbley is another name that shows up often, though his dead money hit would be a bigger $5.4 million (potential split of $1.8 million 2014 and $3.6 million 2015). Given his experience as a 3-4 OLB, though, the Titans could opt to stick him around until they get a better option than him. Given the state of the OLB class, which I plan to write about in the next couple days, that will probably not be in free agency. After they draft, e.g., Anthony Barr in the first round, then I think they could part with Wimbley. 
(c) Though it wouldn't cost any dead money hit and he would not get that on the open market, Nate Washington and his $4.8 million salary seems to be safe.
(d) Michael Roos at $6.625 million and no dead money is safe, and don't even bother suggesting otherwise. On the other hand, David Stewart's $6.4 million salary and no dead money probably make him the likeliest Titan to be released. Given that I cannot see him as the 2014 starting right tackle, I expect him to be released (or be retired) soon.
(e) I like Craig Stevens a lot, but as I noted in the TE positional analysis he is due $3.4 million in salary, will be 30 when the 2014 regular season begins, and has a history of concussions. Total dead money from cutting him, which may be split over the next two seasons, is $2 million. I know, the new coaching staff has talked about how he could play a bigger role, and with no real cap pressure there may not be a need to do anything with his contract.
(f) Rob Bironas has now been a below average kicker on both field goals and kickoffs for two seasons and is due over $3 million in total compensation. You can find below-average kickers for less than that.

There may be other players beyond those six the Titans could be willing to cut, but I believe those are the six who are likeliest to be vulnerable for reasons relating to their base salary. Any other cuts are likely to be much more for performance reasons than because the player is particularly expensive. Yes, there is a bit, or more, of a line-drawing problem here, but the distinction makes sense to me and my post, my rules, my interpretation.

Bottom line; the Titans will have money to spend in free agency if they choose to do so. What positions and which players they might spend the money on will be my next posts.

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